Faculty Report: UF Faculty Felt Outside Pressure to Destroy Data in COVID ResearchBreaking News
tags: academic freedom, COVID-19, University of Florida
Fear of upsetting state officials is pervasive among faculty at the University of Florida, to the point that race-related references have been edited out of course materials and researchers felt pressure to destroy COVID-19 data, according to a report released Monday by a Faculty Senate committee.
The six-person panel was convened three weeks ago to investigate academic freedom issues after the university decided to bar three political science professors from testifying in a lawsuit against the state. But its findings go well beyond that episode and were so disturbing — especially regarding COVID-19 research — that the group decided to speed up its work, said Danaya Wright, a constitutional law professor and former Faculty Senate chairperson who served on the committee.
“We knew it was much more widespread,” Wright said in an interview Monday. “We knew there was more silencing and pressure coming from above. The Big Above.”
The committee received a flood of input from faculty, from stories about attempts to serve as expert witnesses to instances that dealt with race and COVID-19 research across disciplines.
The report discusses several “challenges” faced by UF researchers who were working on COVID-19 with an unidentified state entity. It describes “external pressure to destroy” data as well as “barriers” to accessing, analyzing and publishing the numbers. Taken together, the report said, those problems “inhibited the ability of faculty to contribute scientific findings during a world-wide pandemic.”
The report further states that UF employees were told “not to criticize the Governor of Florida or UF policies related to COVID-19 in media interactions.” It says they were told not to use their UF titles or affiliation in written commentary or to give oral presentations. And faculty at UF Health expressed concerns over funding being in jeopardy if they did not adopt the state’s stance on pandemic regulations in opinion articles, the report says.